Tag Archives: NYLL

W.D.N.Y.: Common Law Claims Not Preempted To the Extent They Provide a Remedy Not Available Under the FLSA

Gordon v. Kaleida Health

In an unusual procedural posture, this case was before the court on plaintiffs’ motion to remand their state common law claims, based on lack of subject matter jurisdiction.  The court held that it had subject matter jurisdiction however, because of FLSA preemption considerations.  As discussed here, the court held that common law claims seeking to recover straight-time compensation otherwise not covered under the FLSA are not preempted by the FLSA.

Discussing the issue the court reasoned:

“In many district court cases where this issue has arisen, the plaintiffs’ common law claims were brought in conjunction with FLSA claims, based on the same facts, and seeking the same relief. In such cases, most courts have had no trouble dismissing the common law claims as preempted to the extent recovery is available under the FLSA, even where the plaintiff also brought wage claims under a parallel state statute. See, e.g., Guensel v. Mount Olive Bd. of Educ., Civ. No. 10–4452, 2011 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 132102, at *19, 2011 WL 5599717 (D.N.J. Nov. 16, 2011) (common law claims that are “directly covered” by FLSA must be brought under the FLSA); DeMarco v. Northwestern Mem. Healthcare, Civ. No. 10–C–397, 2011 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 88541, at *17–18, 2011 WL 3510905 (N.D.Ill. Aug. 10, 2011) (unjust enrichment and other state common law claims seeking relief available under the FLSA are preempted); Bouthner v. Cleveland Constr., Inc., Civ. No. RDB–11–244, 2011 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 79316, at *21–22, 2011 WL 2976868 (D.Md. July 21, 2011) (although common law claim made no reference to FLSA, it was preempted where claim sought wages mandated by FLSA).

Two courts in this Circuit have expressly concluded that common law claims are preempted to the extent they seek recovery available under the FLSA, but are not preempted to the extent that state law provides a remedy not available under federal law. DeSilva v. N. Shore–Long Island Jewish Health Sys., 770 F.Supp.2d 497, 532–33 (E.D.N.Y.2011) (finding common law claims preempted by FLSA to extent they sought overtime wages, but not preempted to extent they sought straight-time pay not available under the FLSA); Barrus v. Dick’s Sporting Goods, Inc., 732 F.Supp.2d 243, 263 (W.D.N.Y.2010)  (dismissing common law claims seeking unpaid overtime as preempted by FLSA, but allowing claim for unpaid straight time wages to go forward). Other district courts have held likewise. See, e .g., Monahan v. Smyth Auto., Inc., No. 10–CV–00048, 2011 Dist. LEXIS 9877, at *9–11, 2011 WL 379129 (S.D. Oh Feb. 2, 2011) (unjust enrichment claim not preempted where it was based on alleged failure to pay the state’s minimum wage, which was higher than FLSA minimum wage rate); Mickle v. Wellman Prods. LLC, No. 08–CV–0297, 2008 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 63697, at *10–11, 2008 WL 3925266 (N.D.Okla.2008) (while state statute created a distinct cause of action for overtime compensation, the plaintiffs’ common law claim seeking such relief was duplicative of remedies provided by the FLSA and was preempted).

The law on this issue is by no means settled—some courts have declined to find common law claims preempted where a state’s statute incorporates the FLSA’s minimum wage and/or overtime provisions, and others have dismissed entirely common law claims for which the FLSA provides only partial relief. However, I find the foregoing cases from within this Circuit persuasive. As the DiSilva court noted, the FLSA’s savings clause expressly provides that wage and hour actions may be brought under state wage statutes, “it says nothing about a party’s ability to pursue general common law claims that have no specific relevance to the labor law context.” 2011 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 27138, at *93 (emphasis in original).

Here, Plaintiffs common law claims are not brought in conjunction with any claim for relief under the FLSA or the NYLL. They refer generally to statutory law only as the basis for calculating damages. This vague reference to “state law” is not enough to draw purely common law claims into the ambit of the FLSA’s savings clause. Accordingly, to the extent Plaintiffs are seeking unpaid overtime wages that are available under the FLSA, their common law claims are preempted, and to the extent they are seeking straight-time wages for which no federal relief is available, they are not.”

Click Gordon v. Kaleida Health to read the entire Decision and Order.

Leave a comment

Filed under Class Certification, State Law Claims

S.D.N.Y.: Delay in Asserting Equitable Tolling Not a Bar to Its Application

Chen v. Grand Harmony Restaurant, Inc.

This case was before the court in an unusual procedural posture on defendants’ proactive motion requesting that the court deny tolling of the statute of limitations on plaintiffs’ FLSA and NYLL claims arguing that (1) it is too late for Plaintiffs to make a request for equitable tolling; (2) the equitable tolling doctrine cannot be applied to the remaining individual defendants, as they were not obligated by federal or state law to post the notices at issue; and (3) there is no justification to toll the statute of limitations.  The Magistrate Judge held that plaintiffs had not waived their right to assert a right to equitable tolling based on the passage of time.  The defendants then objected to the Magistrate’s R&R on this ground.  Adopting the Magistrate’s reasoning the court reasoned:

“In his Report, Magistrate Judge Katz properly concluded that Plaintiffs are not barred from invoking the doctrine of equitable tolling because of a delay in raising the issue. Equitable tolling is a matter within the sound discretion of the Court. Defendants do not cite any relevant statutory or case law authority to support their claim that Plaintiffs have waived their right to request that the Court equitably toll the statute of limitations by waiting until this stage in the litigation. Further, Defendants had prior notice that Plaintiffs intended to seek damages back to the beginning of their employment. Plaintiffs alleged in their complaint that Defendants’ actions occurred throughout Plaintiffs’ employment and Defendants acknowledged that the entire period of Plaintiffs’ employment was at issue both in their answer and throughout discovery. The issue of equitable tolling was therefore present, at least implicitly, from the beginning of the action.”

Click Chen v. Grand Harmony Restaurant, Inc. to read the entire Memorandum Decision and Order.


Leave a comment

Filed under Equitable Tolling

E.D.N.Y.: Where Agreement to Arbitrate Is Silent As To Class Arbitration, Arbitrator Not Court to Decide Class Arbitrability Issue

Guida v. Home Savings of America, Inc.

Plaintiffs brought this putative class action on behalf of themselves, and on behalf of individuals similarly situated, against Defendants, asserting claims under the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”), 29 U.S.C. §§ 201 et. seq., and related New York state wage and labor laws.  Defendants moved to dismiss plaintiffs’ complaint, and compel arbitration on an individual basis pursuant to the Federal Arbitration Act (“FAA”), 9 U.S.C. §§ 1 et. seq.  While Plaintiffs agreed to arbitrate the dispute, they argued that the arbitrator should decide whether the arbitration can proceed on a class basis, because the arbitration agreement was silent on the issue of class arbitration.  The court agreed and held that while the parties were required to arbitrate the dispute, the determination of whether or not the arbitration should proceed on a class basis is for the arbitrator to make in the first instance.

Discussing the relevant provisions of the agreement(s) to arbitrate, the court explained:

“The terms of the Alternative Dispute Resolution Agreement are identical for all of the plaintiffs. The following are relevant portions from the Alternative Dispute Resolution Agreements:

I understand that Home Savings of America makes available arbitration for resolution of employment disputes that are not otherwise resolved by internal policies or procedures.

I agree that if I am unable to resolve any dispute through the internal policies and procedures of Home Savings … I will arbitrate … any legal claim that I might have against Home Savings … or its employees, in connection with my employment or termination of employment … whether arising out of issues or matters occurring before the date of this Agreement or after such date.

I agree to abide by and accept the final decisions of the arbitration panel as ultimate resolution of any disputes or issues for any and all events that arise out of employment or termination of employment.

I agree that the Employee Dispute Resolution Rules of the American Arbitration Association will apply to any resolution of any such matters. In exchange for the benefits of arbitration, I agree that the arbitrator will only have the power to grant those remedies available in court, under applicable law.”

In light of the silence as to class arbitration, the court held that the issue was one for the arbitrator, not the court to decide.  The court reasoned that Supreme Court jurisprudence supported this holding, because the issue was one of substantive interpretation of the contract language and not merely a procedural issue:

“This Court concludes, in light of StoltNielsen and Bazzle, that the ability of a class to arbitrate a dispute where the parties contest whether the agreement to arbitrate is silent or ambiguous on the issue is a procedural question that is for the arbitrator to decide.  Even though Bazzle does not have the full weight of Supreme Court precedent, it is nevertheless instructive. See, e.g., Barbour v. Haley, 471 F.3d 1222, 1229 (11 th Cir.2006) (“Plurality opinions are not binding on this court; however, they are persuasive authority.”); Galli v. N.J. Meadowlands Comm’n, 490 F.3d 265, 274 (3d Cir.2007) (concluding that dicta in Supreme Court opinions has persuasive value). The Second Circuit found Bazzle persuasive, as have other courts prior to Stolt–Nielsen. See Vaughn v. Leeds, Morelli & Brown, P.C., 315 F. App’x 327, 329 (2d Cir.2009) (concluding that the district court “properly compelled arbitration on the question of the arbitrability of class claims under the Settlement Agreement[,]” citing Bazzle and Howsam); JSC Surgutneftegaz v. President & Fellows of Harvard College, 04 Civ. 6069(RMB), 2007 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 79161, at *6 (S.D.N.Y. Oct. 11, 2007) (citing Bazzle for the proposition that “arbitrators are well situated to answer the question whether contracts forbid[ ] class arbitration” (quotation marks omitted)); Scout. com, LLC v. Bucknuts, LLC, No. C07–1444 RSM, 2007 WL 4143229, at *5 (W.D.Wa. Nov.16, 2007) (concluding that, in light of Bazzle, it was for the arbitrator to decide the procedural question of whether the plaintiffs can arbitrate as a class (collecting cases)). Furthermore, many courts since Stolt–Nielsen have continued to follow Bazzle’s conclusion that the ability to arbitrate on a class basis is a procedural question left for the arbitrator to decide. This Court finds the Third Circuit’s opinion in Vilches v. The Travelers Companies, Incorporated, No. 10–2888, 2011 U.S.App. LEXIS 2551 (3d Cir. Feb. 9, 2011), particularly instructive. In Vilches, the Third Circuit reconciled Bazzle and StoltNielsen as follows:

Although contractual silence [on the issue of arbitration on a class basis] has often been treated by arbitrators as authorizing class arbitration, Stolt–Nielsen suggests a return to the pre-Bazzle line of reasoning on contractual silence, albeit decided by an arbitrator, because it focuses on what the parties agreed to—expressly or by implication.

Id. at *12–13 n. 3. The Third Circuit concluded that the ability of the plaintiffs to proceed on a class basis in arbitration was essentially a question of “what kind of arbitration proceeding the parties agreed to [,]” id. at *10 (emphasis in original) (citing Bazzle), and went on to conclude that “[w]here contractual silence is implicated, the arbitrator and not a court should decide whether a contract was indeed silent on the issue of class arbitration, and whether a contract with an arbitration clause forbids class arbitration.” Id. at *11 (quotation marks omitted) (citing StoltNielsen, 130 S.Ct. at 1771–72, describing the plurality opinion in Bazzle). In Vilches, the agreement in question “did not expressly reference class or collective arbitration or any waiver of the same.” Id. at *3. The parties debated whether a revised arbitration policy including a class arbitration waiver applied to plaintiffs but agreed that plaintiffs’ causes of action alleged in the complaint otherwise fell under the purview of the arbitration agreement. Id. at *3–6, *9–10. The court in Vilches referred the “questions of whether class arbitration was agreed upon to the arbitrator.” Id. This Court similarly concludes that Stolt–Nielsen and Bazzle are reconcilable and that arbitrating on a class basis is a procedural question that is for the arbitrators to decide in accordance with the Supreme Court’s analysis in Stolt–Nielsen, which provides a framework for the arbitrator’s analysis of the issue.

Nor is Vilches alone in its conclusion. There are a number of cases in addition to Vilches in which courts have concluded, subsequent to Stolt–Nielsen, that the ability of plaintiffs to arbitrate on a class basis is an issue to be determined by the arbitrator. See, e.g., Aracri v. Dillard’s Inc., No. 1:10cv253, 2011 WL 1388613, at * 4 (S.D.Ohio Mar.29, 2011) (concluding that “it is not for this Court, but for an arbitrator to decide whether class arbitration is forbidden under the Arbitration Agreement and Dillard’s Rules of Arbitration” where the arbitration agreement did not explicitly mention class arbitration but the parties contested whether Dillard’s Rules, to which all arbitration claims were subject, provided for class arbitration); Smith v. The Cheesecake Factory Restaurants, Inc., No. 3:06–00829, 2010 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 121930, at *7 (M.D.Tenn. Nov. 16, 2010) (concluding that “whether the parties agreed to class arbitration is to be resolved by the arbitrator[,]” citing Stolt–Nielsen and Bazzle); Fisher v. General Steel Domestic Sales, LLC, No. 10–cv–1509–WYD–BNB, 2010 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 108223, at *6–7 (D.Col. Sept. 22, 2010) (where parties agreed that plaintiffs’ claims were subject to arbitration but were contesting whether the agreement in question permitted class arbitration, “based on the plain language of Stolt–Nielsen, it is clear that an arbitrator may, as a threshold matter, appropriately determine whether the applicable arbitration clause permits the arbitration to proceed on behalf of or against a class” (quotation marks omitted)). See also Clark v. Goldline Int’l, Inc., No. 6:10–cv–01884 (JMC), 2010 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 126192, at *21–22 (D.S.C. Nov. 30, 2010) (“[T]he court notes that whether a class is appropriately certified in this case or otherwise is yet to be determined. Second, whether the Account Agreement precludes any putative classmember from bringing a claim has no bearing on the validity or enforceability of the arbitration provisions. Such issues raised by Plaintiffs must be determined by an arbitrator, not this court.” (citing Bazzle)). But see Chen–Oster v. Goldman, Sachs & Co., No. 10 Civ. 6950(LBS)(JCF), 2011 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 46994, at *10 (S.D.N.Y. Apr. 28, 2011) (concluding that the ability to arbitrate on a class basis requires a “determination of the scope and enforceability of the arbitration clause, and therefore the issue is appropriately characterized as a dispute over arbitrability[,]” further noting that this question “fits into the narrow circumstances where contracting parties would likely have expected a court to have decided the gateway matter[,]” relying on Stolt–Nielsen’s emphasis that Bazzle was solely a plurality opinion).”

Interestingly, the court also addressed and rejected Defendants’ argument that the Supreme Court’s recent holding in AT & T Mobility LLC v. Concepcion stood for the proposition that the issue of whether or not to arbitrate on a class basis is not a procedural issue, which would have allowed the court to decide the issue.

Click Guida v. Home Savings of America, Inc. to read the entire Memorandum and Order.

Leave a comment

Filed under Arbitration, Class Waivers, Collective Actions

S.D.N.Y.: Because FLSA Collective Action Is Not A Class Action, FLSA Collective Action Subject To Arbitration Despite FINRA Rule Prohibiting Class Actions

Velez v. Perrin Holden & Davenport Capital Corp.

Plaintiff brought this action alleging violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”) and the New York Labor Law (“NYLL”) on behalf of himself and other similarly situated stock brokers employed or formerly employed by defendant Perrin Holden & Davenport Capital Corp. (“PHD Capital”) and its officers and owners. Plaintiff sought designation of the case as as a collective action pursuant to FLSA section 216 for his FLSA claims and as a class action pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 23 for his state law claims.

Defendants moved to dismiss the complaint pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6) or, in the alternative, to compel arbitration pursuant to the Federal Arbitration Act (“FAA”), 9 U.S .C. §§ 3, 4, on the ground that Plaintiff had agreed to arbitrate his FLSA claims at the time he was hired.   In line with other courts that have decided the issue, the court held that a “collective action” is not encompassed within the term “class action” as that term is used in FINRA’s rules, and thus compelled arbitration of Velez’s FLSA claims, allowing for a collective action in FINRA arbitration.

After finding  that the Plaintiff’s claims were subject to arbitration, the court then discussed whether, under FINRA rules banning class actions, Plaintiff could proceed with an FLSA collective action.  Reasoning he could the court explained:

“FINRA Rule 13200 mandates arbitration of disputes between the parties “except as otherwise provided.” (FINRA Rule 13200, Ex. B to Declaration of Matthew D. Kadushin dated Aug. 27, 2010 (“Kadushin Decl.”).) Notably, FINRA Rule 13204 prohibits arbitration of “class action claims.” (FINRA Rule 13204, Ex. A to Kadushin Decl.) It is thus uncontested that Velez’s state law claims-which plaintiff has asserted as a class action pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 23-are ineligible for arbitration. The parties dispute, however, whether that exemption of class action claims from arbitration also applies to plaintiff’s FLSA collective action claims. While defendants contend that collective actions are distinct from class actions and therefore subject to FINRA arbitration, Velez argues that the phrase “class action” in FINRA Rule 13204 encompasses a collective action and therefore collective action claims are not arbitrable. Velez looks to the interpretation by FINRA staff members of FINRA’s rules to support his position.

Every court to address whether an FLSA collective action is arbitrable pursuant to FINRA’s rules has found in favor of arbitrability.  See Gomez v. Brill Securities, Inc., No. 10 Civ. 3503, 2010 WL 4455827 (S.D.N.Y. Nov. 2, 2010); Suschil v. Ameriprise Financial Servs., Inc., No. 07 Civ. 2655, 2008 WL 974045, at *5 (N.D.Ohio Apr. 7, 2008); Chapman v. Lehman Bros., Inc., 279 F.Supp.2d 1286, 1290 (S.D.Fla.2003). This Court agrees with its sister district courts.

FINRA Rule 13204 clearly states that “[c]lass action claims may not be arbitrated” under FINRA’s Code of Arbitration Procedure. However, that rule says nothing about collective action claims. Although collective and class actions have much in common, there is a critically important difference: collective actions are opt-in actions, i.e., each member of the class must take steps to opt in to the action in order to participate in it, whereas class actions are opt-out actions, i.e., class members automatically participate in a class action unless they take affirmative steps to opt out of the class action. Collective actions bind only similarly situated plaintiffs who have affirmatively consented to join the action.

Velez urges the Court to defer to the opinions of FINRA staff who have issued letters construing collective actions to come within the ambit of class actions for the purposes of FINRA arbitration. (See, e.g., Letter from Jean I. Feeney, NASD Assistant General Counsel, dated Sept. 21, 1999, Ex. C. to Kadushin Decl.; Letter from George H. Friedman, NASD Executive Vice President, Dispute Resolution, Director of Arbitration, dated Oct. 10, 2003, Ex. D to Kadushin Decl.) However, those letters do not contain any substantial analysis, and the Feeney letter itself includes the disclaimer that “the opinions expressed herein are staff opinions only and have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Board of Directors of [the] NASD.” Moreover, FINRA’s website specifically states that “[s]taff-issued interpretive letters express staff views and opinions only and are not binding on FINRA and its Board.” (FINRA-Interpretive Letters, Ex. 1 to Affirmation of Emily A. Hayes dated Sept. 9, 2010). Such “staff opinion letters are not the sort of agency interpretation that is entitled to deference by this Court.” Gomez, 2010 WL 4455827 at *1; see also Auer v. Robbins, 519 U.S. 452, 461 (1997); Skidmore v. Swift & Co., 323 U.S. 134 (1944). If FINRA wanted to prohibit arbitration of collective action claims, FINRA is certainly able to amend its rules to do so. See FINRA Rulemaking Process, available at http://www.finra.org/In dustry/Regulation/FINRARules/RulemakingProcess (Feb. 2, 2010); see also Gomez, 2010 WL 4455827 at *2.

As noted above, the parties here have agreed in writing to arbitrate certain disputes as required by FINRA. In light of other district court opinions, this Court’s own interpretation of FINRA rules, and the federal policy favoring arbitration as an alternative forum in which to resolve disputes, this Court finds that FLSA collective actions are within the scope of the parties’ agreement to arbitrate. In addition, no congressional intent precludes arbitration of the federal FLSA claims. See, e.g., Gomez, 2010 WL 4455827 at *2; Coheleach v. Bear, Stearns & Co., 440 F.Supp.2d 338, 240 (S.D.N.Y.2006).”

Accordingly, defendants’ motion was granted to the extent that the court compelled arbitration of Plaintiff’s FLSA claims.

Leave a comment

Filed under Arbitration, Class Certification, Collective Actions

E.D.N.Y.: FLSA Defendants Not Entitled To Discovery Of Plaintiffs’ Full Tax Returns; Motion For Protective Order Granted

Melendez v. Primavera Meats, Inc.

Before the court was plaintiffs’ motion for a protective order barring defendants from obtaining their income tax returns.  Reasoning that the defendants failed to show a compelling need for same to overcome the plaintiffs’ privacy rights, the court granted the plaintiffs’ motion.

Framing the issue, the court explained:

“Defendants have served a discovery demand seeking production of federal and state income tax returns for various time periods for each plaintiff. Plaintiffs seek a protective order arguing that the tax returns are not relevant and that the requests are improper attempts to ascertain the immigration status of each plaintiff. Defendants respond that they are uninterested in the immigration question, but seek the information to determine the identity of plaintiffs’ employers.”

The court reasoned:

“Although income tax returns are not inherently privileged, courts are typically reluctant to compel their disclosure because of both ‘the private nature of the sensitive information contained therein’ and ‘the public interest in encouraging the filing by taxpayers of complete and accurate returns.’ “ Carmody v. Village of Rockville Centre, 2007 WL 2042807, at *2 (E.D.N.Y. July 13, 2007) (quoting Smith v. Bader, 83 F.R.D. 437, 438 (S.D.N.Y.1979)). In determining whether to compel discovery of tax returns, the court applies a two prong test: “(1) the tax returns must be relevant to the subject matter of the action, and (2) a compelling need must exist because the information is not readily obtainable from a less intrusive source.” Sadofsky v. Fiesta Prods., LLC, 252 F.R.D. 143, 149 (E.D.N.Y.2008) (citations omitted). The modern trend places the burden on the party seeking the discovery to establish both prongs of this test. See Uto v. Job Site Servs., Inc., — F.Supp.2d —-, 2010 WL 3700239, at *4 (E.D.N.Y. Sept. 20, 2010); see also Carmody, 2007 WL 2043807, at *2.

As the party seeking discovery in this case, the defendants first bear the burden of showing the relevance of the tax returns to the instant action. Defendants argue that the tax returns are relevant since they will identify other employers of the plaintiffs. As defendants apparently claim that they never employed these plaintiffs, they further argue that the tax returns are “relevant as to how much the plaintiffs were paid by these defendants, if they were paid by these defendants at all.” Defs.’ ltr at 1. Plaintiffs respond that the tax returns are irrelevant because even if they reflect the existence of other employers, the returns would not indicate how many hours plaintiffs worked for a particular employer.

Even assuming, arguendo, that the tax returns are relevant, defendants must also establish the second prong of the test-that they have a compelling need for these items because the information is not readily obtainable from a less intrusive source. Sadofsky, 252 F.R.D. at 150 (citations omitted). Defendants offer only a conclusory statement that “there is no other means by which the defendants in this case can establish that someone other than themselves were the plaintiffs’ employer” and a rhetorical question posed to plaintiff’s counsel as to what less intrusive methods might exist. Defendants have singularly failed to establish that the information sought cannot be obtained from a less intrusive source and thus have not met their burden.

As to defendants’ argument regarding the amounts paid by them to the plaintiffs, their own records should reflect this information. Interrogatories, demands for non-tax return documents, and/or inquiries during depositions are discovery devices that apparently have not yet been utilized by defendants. The same devices can be used to obtain discovery regarding any other entities that may have employed the plaintiffs during the relevant time periods. Defendants could, for example, pose interrogatories to determine plaintiffs’ employment history during the relevant time period or question plaintiffs during depositions concerning the number of hours they worked. Carmody, 2007 WL 2042807, at *3 (citing Sabetelli v. Allied Interstate, Inc., 2006 WL 2620385, at *1 (E.D.N.Y. Sept. 13 2006)). Here, there is no representation from defendants that they have attempted to retrieve the information sought from plaintiff’s through discovery of other documentary evidence such as financial records, or “through the use of any other, less intrusive, discovery device.”   Carmody, 2007 WL 2042807, at *3.

For the foregoing reasons, plaintiffs’ motion for a protective order is granted. This ruling may be re-visited upon motion by the defendants, provided they can demonstrate that they have unsuccessfully attempted to obtain the information by other methods.”

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Discovery, Immigration Status

2d. Cir.: Advertising Salespeople Are Not Administratively Exempt Under The FLSA; Sales Are Not “Directly Related To Management Policies Or General Business Operations”

Reiseck v. Universal Communications of Miami, Inc.

This case was before the Court on Plaintiff’s appeal an Order at the district court below, granting Defendants summary judgment on all counts of Plaintiff’s claim.  The Court affirmed all parts of the judgment below, except for that pertaining to the FLSA.  Resolving a question of first impression, the Court held that advertising salespeople, who conduct sales with individual customers are not subject to the administrative exemption as a matter of law, because such sales work is production work not administrative.

The Court discussed the following facts as relevant to its decision:

“September 2002, Reiseck began working as a Regional Director of Sales at Universal in New York City. As Regional Director of Sales, Reiseck was responsible for generating advertising sales in the northeastern United States and Canada from the travel and finance sectors for Universal’s magazine publication, Elite Traveler. While an employee of Universal, Reiseck was paid a base salary plus certain commissions. Plaintiff was paid no overtime during her tenure with Universal.

Elite Traveler is distributed on a complimentary basis. Advertising sales therefore constitute the majority of Universal’s revenue from Elite Traveler. The magazine had a sales staff, a marketing staff, and an editorial staff. The sales staff sold advertising space; the marketing staff created promotional material to increase advertising sales; and the editorial staff produced the “content” of the magazine.”

Discussing the inapplicability of the administrative exemption to the case at bar, the Court applied the s0-called pre-2004 “short test.”

“Under the short test as it applies here, an employee falls under the administrative employee exemption if the employee is paid on a salary or fee basis at a rate of not less than $250 per week (i.e., the “salary test”), id. § 541.2(e)(2), and the employee’s “primary duty consists of … the performance of office or nonmanual work directly related to management policies or general business operations of his employer,” id. § 541.2(a), and requires “the exercise of discretion and independent judgment,” id. § 541.2(e)(2), (i.e., the “duties test”). As noted above, there is no dispute that Reiseck’s employment satisfies the salary test prong of the short test.

Because the first prong of the short test is not in dispute, we move to the second prong-the duties test. Here, it is uncontested that Reiseck’s primary duty consisted of “the performance of office or non-manual work”; therefore we must consider whether Reiseck’s primary duty was “directly related to management policies or general business operations” of Universal. Id. § 541.2(a).

The phrase “directly related to management policies or general business operations” is not self-defining, and the Secretary of Labor has promulgated interpretive regulations to aid our application of this test. See, e.g., id. § 541.2. Although the Secretary’s legislative regulations-those promulgated pursuant to an express grant of authority by Congress, like 29 C.F.R. § 541.2-have the power to control courts’ reading of the law, the Secretary’s interpretive regulations have only the power to persuade courts. See Skidmore v. Swift & Co., 323 U.S. 134, 139-40 (1944). See generally United States v. Mead Corp., 533 U .S. 218 (2001). And thus we defer to the Secretary’s interpretative regulations only to the extent that we find them persuasive. See Skidmore, 323 U.S. at 140.

In its interpretive regulations, the Department of Labor describes “directly related to management policies or general business operations” in several ways. First, the interpretive rules state that the phrase at issue “describes those types activities relating to the administrative operations of a business as distinguished from ‘production’ or, in a retail or service establishment, ‘sales’ work.” 29 C.F.R. § 541.205(a). They also state that “the phrase limits the exemption to persons who perform work of substantial importance to the management or operation of the business.” Id. Alternatively, the interpretive rules state that the administrative operations include “advising the management, planning, negotiating, representing the company, purchasing, promoting sales, and business research and control.” Id. § 541.205(b).

At first glance, the two definitions of the phrase “directly related to management policies or general business operations” in the interpretive regulations seem to point to contradictory conclusions in Reiseck’s case. On the one hand, plaintiff was a salesperson responsible for selling specific advertising space, and so seems to fit comfortably on the “sales” side of the administrative/sales divide. See id. § 541.205(a). On the other hand, Reiseck also “promoted sales” in some sense, and thus seems to have performed administrative operations. See id. § 541.205(b). We are required to resolve this apparent contradiction. Whether advertising salespersons are administrative employees for the purposes of the exemptions to the FLSA’s overtime pay provisions is a question of first impression for this Court. In answering this question, we also refine our interpretation of the administrative exemption to the FLSA.

First, we consider the Department’s distinction between “administrative” and “sales.” As a magazine publisher, Universal is not one of the archetypal businesses envisaged by the FLSA; it is neither a manufacturer nor a retailer. Accordingly, placing Reiseck’s work into either the administrative or sales category is difficult initially. Nevertheless, a careful consideration of Universal’s business model provides some clarity. Because Universal does not charge readers for Elite Traveler, advertising sales are a critical source of revenue for Universal. One could thus conclude that advertising space is Universal’s “product.” If advertising space is Universal’s product and Reiseck’s primary duty was the sale of that product, then she may reasonably be considered a sales employee, rather than an administrative employee.

Next, we consider the contradictory conclusion suggested by the second description found in the interpretive regulations-namely, that administrative operations include “promoting sales.” 29 C.F.R. § 541.205(b). Because Reiseck sold advertising space, it seems that she must have “promoted sales.” But under that theory, any sales clerk in a retail store would “promote sales” when assisting potential customers, and there would be no administrative/sales distinction in a retail store despite the clear assertion of the interpretive rule that sales work in a retail store is not administrative work for the purposes of the FLSA. Id. One of our sister circuits has provided some helpful guidance on this matter. In Martin v. Cooper Electric Supply Co., 940 F.2d 896, 905 (3d Cir.1991), the Third Circuit reasoned that sales promotion “consists of marketing activity aimed at promoting (i.e., increasing, developing, facilitating, and/or maintaining) customer sales generally.” According to the logic of the Third Circuit, which we now adopt, an employee making specific sales to individual customers is a salesperson for the purposes of the FLSA, while an employee encouraging an increase in sales generally among all customers is an administrative employee for the purposes of the FLSA. Consider a clothing store. The individual who assists customers in finding their size of clothing or who completes the transaction at the cash register is a salesperson under the FLSA, while the individual who designs advertisements for the store or decides when to reduce prices to attract customers is an administrative employee for the purposes of the FLSA.

Here, Reiseck is plainly a salesperson. Although she did “develop new clients” with the goal of increasing sales generally, this was not her primary duty. Under the interpretive regulations, an employee’s “primary duty” is the duty that consumes a “major part, or over [fifty] percent, of the employee’s time.” 29 C.F.R. § 541.103 (defining “primary duty” for the executive employee); see also 29 C.F.R. § 541.206 (applying the definition of “primary duty” for the executive employee to the administrative employee). The record shows that Reiseck’s primary duty was to sell specific advertising space to clients. Even Gollan, plaintiff’s supervisor, conceded that Reiseck was a member of the “sales staff” and not the “marketing staff.”  Because Reiseck’s primary duty was the sale of advertising space, she is properly considered a “salesperson” for the purposes of the FLSA and therefore does not fall under the administrative exemption to the overtime pay provisions of the FLSA.

Recent amendments to the interpretive regulations provide helpful guidance to support our conclusion above. Although these interpretive regulations do not apply retroactively, see ante note 5, (and even if they did apply retroactively, we need not consider them if we find them unpersuasive, see Skidmore, 323 U.S. at 140), we nevertheless note that the new regulations reach the same conclusion that we reach above. When providing examples of employees who fall under the administrative exemption, the interpretative regulations state that an employee in the financial sector whose primary duty includes “marketing, servicing, or promoting the employer’s financial products” likely falls under the administrative exemption. 29 C.F.R. § 541.203(b) (2004). But, the regulations then specify that “an employee whose primary duty is selling financial products does not qualify for the administrative exemption.” Id. (emphasis added). For example, if a bank employee, acting within the scope of her primary duty, encourages a customer to open a money market account while she opens a checking account for that customer, she would not likely be an administrative employee because she simply was selling a financial product. If, however, an employee’s primary duty included deciding which interest rates to offer to encourage customers to open money market accounts, then that employee would likely be considered an administrative employee, because she was “marketing … or promoting” the financial products. Universal’s sale of advertising space is similar to a financial services company’s sale of financial products. Neither fits neatly within the traditional retail sales model, yet both are standard products sold directly to clients. Additionally, the new interpretative regulations confirm t

Because Reiseck’s primary duty is not administrative, she cannot fall under the administrative exemption to the overtime pay provisions of the FLSA. Our inquiry ends there-we need not inquire whether her work requires “the exercise of discretion and independent judgment,” because the short test requires both that the employee’s primary duty be administrative and that the employee’s work involves the use of discretion. 29 C.F.R. § 541.2(e)(2).”

Leave a comment

Filed under Exemptions

6 Construction Companies Accused Of Using Race-based Pay Scale: Whites At Top, Latinos Rock Bottom, Daily News Reports

The Daily News is reporting that, “[s]ix construction companies are accused in a new state lawsuit of paying their employees according to their race – with whites at the top and Latinos at the bottom.

The suit filed by [New York] state Attorney General Andrew Cuomo on Thursday says the companies cheated lower-paid minority workers out of $4 million in wages and overtime.

All six firms are controlled by Michael Mahoney, a contractor exposed by the Daily News last year after workers said his companies provided them with black market federal safety certificates.

Mahoney’s companies paid white workers an average hourly rate of $25, while paying African-Americans $18 and Latinos and Brazilians only $15 an hour for the same work, the suit charges.

Since 2002, the companies short-changed dozens of employes at at least 10 construction sites, Cuomo charged.

Some workers were cheated of as much as $600 a month, according to Cuomo.”

Leave a comment

Filed under Wage and Hour News, Wage Theft